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We’re Baaack!

Hello world, and look out: your favourite bookwitches are back in action!

It seems fitting, on a day when so much of the world is looking on in varying degrees of distress, despair, alarm and concern at the state of our social and political landscape, to relaunch a mission of hope, inspiration, and creativity.

This, our inaugural post (as it were), is less a mission statement than it is a heads up: 2017 is going to be a big year for the world, and we are going to be a big part of that. Our aim is to share the magic of books, the joy and wonder of literature with readers and thinkers young and old, and never has that magic been needed more than it is now.

This year, we’re upping our game and stepping out into a new adventure! Watch this space for exciting developments and announcements: big things are coming, and you can expect to see some amazing sights in the next few months!

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We miss you, Sir Terry

Eight months, almost to the day, after the world said a heartbroken farewell to Sir Terry Pratchett, and we are still quite devastated by his passing, still coming to terms with the immensity of our loss.

Never before in my life have I felt such momentous, overwhelming, heart-aching, tear-shedding grief at the death of someone I never met.  To this day, I feel as though the man who died on March 12, 2015, was not a famous writer, an influential and extraordinary author to whom we are all indebted for the magnificent writing he gave us–rather, I feel as though the man who died in March was my brother, father, grandfather: a man I knew and loved as my own family, and whose passing I still mourn, whose loss I still haven’t quite learned to cope with.

This autumn, we received the 41st, and final, novel in the Discworld series, starring one of Pratchett’s finest creations, Tiffany Aching. I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to read Shepherd’s Crown, and to be honest, even thinking about it is enough to choke me up. It feels too much like saying goodbye to Sir Terry all over again, and I can’t bring myself to do that. Reading Shepherd’s Crown is too much like accepting that he’s really gone: those words are the last he wrote.  As a child, I loved watching an adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmens’ Madeline; the closing phrase comes back to me now, gentle as it ever was, but piercing in its truth and poignancy, as I look at my unopened copy of the final Discworld novel and remember, with tears rolling down my cheeks: “That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.”

Wherever you are, Sir Terry, please know that we miss you.

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Inspired by Els

I am thrilled to share this excellent article from the Guardian on Els, the 8-year-old who challenged Scholastic’s perpetuation of gender stereotypes through a petition that called on the publisher to stop marketing its books as “for boys” or “for girls.”

Articles like this one give us hope for the future–Els’ thoughtfulness, her critical analysis of the situation, and her strength in standing up and protesting the unfair way these books were being presented, are qualities much to be admired in someone of any age, but especially in someone so young, and the thought of the world in the hands of people like Els is inspiring. However, as many parents, siblings, and caretakers reading this will be aware, these qualities are not as rare in children as one might think: rather, they are strengths that are all-too-often missed by adults, as we overlook, ignore, or significantly diminish the skills and ideas of the under-12s (and older too, for that matter–but that’s a different story).  Thus, stories like this one are exceptional not only because Els spoke up, but because someone actually listened.

Els’ protest also brings to mind, for me at least, another issue at work within the world of publishing and marketing. For the past few years, the children’s literary market has been dominated by young adult titles: from Twilight, to The Hunger Games and Divergent, not to mention John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the books that have received the biggest share of cultural attention, headlines, movie rights and bestseller spots have been those geared to 13+, and frequently read by those 30+ as well; unfortunately,  a side-effect of this massive surge in popularity for YA lit has been a serious diminishing of attention, opportunity, and respect for books geared towards younger readers.

Having said that, in recent months we’ve started to see a shift in the tone of new releases: the steady stream of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic dystopian novels has diminished, and while there are more books about teens with terminal illnesses than there used to be, that really hasn’t stepped up as a dominant genre. Rather, we’re starting to see a return to what might be considered “old-fashioned” children’s literature:  novels where the characters are between 9-13 years old, act largely independently of adults, must take on a great deal of responsibility, and are caught up in mysteries, peril, and fantastic adventures of assorted kinds. Parents are kidnapped, stolen paintings uncovered, mystical creatures with amazing powers encountered: the plots and premises are varied, and the depth and sophistication of characterisation and emotion (in the good ones, at least), absolutely rivals, if not to say surpasses, those of books written for more “mature” audiences. Much like their older counterparts, the protagonists of children’s literature frequently find themselves in fraught situations where the world hangs in the balance, but–and here’s a key distinction–in these novels the world is worth saving. These stories are not naive in tone, nor is there an abundance of Pollyanna-esque levels of overwhelming positivity. Tragedies happen and sorrow touches characters in ways both great and small. But there is a quality of optimism in these novels which has been largely absent from teen lit of recent years, and from adult literature for far longer, and it is this optimism that I believe that is so important in the raising of children and young adults of the current generation.

I believe that most children are, by nature, optimists–that they have the courage of their convictions, whatever they may be, and that they are willing to fight for what they believe in (and also, as every exhausted parent knows, to fight very hard for what they want); Els, with her determination and willingness to challenge herself and others, is a perfect example of this kind of steely optimism, which children’s literature, done well, encourages and strengthens.  Children are, I think often more than adults, sure that they are able to make a serious difference in the world; going by the evidence, I’m inclined to think they’re right.

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What Colour Skirt Does Your Four Year Old Wear?

I work in a bookstore, and often, when someone comes in looking for a book for a child I find myself asking two questions: boy or girl? what age? These enquiries are disquieting of course, since I consider myself a feminist as well as someone who doesn’t believe that age defines interests or abilities. And, since the customer often refers to the child  by gender and age  I can justify my behaviour by suggesting that it is the customer who defines my approach.

But that’s just lazy on my part. And consciously self deluding. Because on days when I am a book lover before I am a book seller those are not the questions that I ask.

“What is your child like? What books have you read together, or have they read on their own, that they’ve truly loved? Does your child love reading, or like it, or are you trying to engage someone reluctant to pick up a book? What is your child curious about, what do they talk about, and who do they appear to admire?”

Personal, possibly presumptuous questions, but they need to be asked with care and genuine interest, because the right book at the right time can change your world. And the right book isn’t based on age or gender, or what everyone else is reading; it is particular, special, right for this person at this time. Often, the customer provides information of a sort; “he’s eleven, and he likes playing on the computer. Oh and he’s good in school and he plays soccer.” Or “She’s twelve and really social. A good student.” I hear that a lot. Apparently, there are an unending amount of kids who are good students(whatever that means) who are social, who play soccer, who like spending tons of time on the computer—clones with different coloured eyes and hair but identical interests, thoughts, abilities. However, the kids who frequent the book store aren’t nearly as easy to classify. Maybe that’s the problem. We don’t know what other classifications to use but the ones that have been handed to us, by schools by magazines, by whatever or whomever decides the cultural norms. Of course, we may not want to share the special or idiosyncratic or confusing aspects of our children with a stranger, a bookstore clerk(note here: books are important, so it’s worthwhile getting to know your librarians, and your booksellers, so that you can find the ones who resonate with you…..and avoid the ones who really don’t). Or perhaps we don’t know what to say, because we don’t know our children that well, and that makes us uncomfortable. That last possibility isn’t as troubling as it appears though, since most of us couldn’t tell anyone what we’re like either. Still, in searching out the right book for any individual there are clues, of a sort, to help the seeker find the book that will open the world at a different page, though it’s good to remember that they are seldom as banal as age and gender.

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Wow.

This is possibly a record-making moment: both of us are speechless. Not only speechless, but overwhelmed and in tears. This evening, we were given a collection of letters from some of the many wonderful home learning parents and families who have attended our book talks over the last six years.  In these letters were moving memories and beautiful stories, and an outpouring of appreciation that was (and is) absolutely staggering. Several of you told us about specific moments or titles that shaped and changed you and your loved ones, or that made one of your children into the avid reader they have become (all credit to that is really due to them and you, by the way, but we’re absolutely overjoyed to hear about it, and thrilled to have been a part of it!).

What extraordinarily kind and thoughtful people you all are to have done this: to have taken the time and energy to make us feel so valued. Ironically, for women who earn their living through language, tonight we really don’t have the words to thank you. Our hearts are full; we both feel so amazingly fortunate to know you all, and to get to be a part of your lives.

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Stop all the clocks…

Sir Terry Pratchett, April 28, 1948 – March 12, 2015

A star has gone out, but its light shines on. We were shocked and profoundly saddened today to learn of the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, whose dazzling displays of literary magic have enriched and illuminated our lives for so many years. As many of you will know, Sir Terry had the “embuggerance” that is Alzheimer’s, of which he is now free. His passing has left a hole in our lives that all the words in the world cannot fill, since he is no longer there to write them.

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.”

W.H. Auden

Step out among the stars, Sir Terry, and teach them how to shine. We’ll miss you.

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Welcome! Why not stay for a spell?

Hello and welcome to the brand-new home of the book witches! Those of you familiar with our talks and work as booksellers on the beautiful rain-soaked coast of western Canada will be well-aware of our enthusiasm and passion for language and literature. We believe that there is a book out there for everyone–an extraordinary story that will change your life forever–and we want to help you find it. We also love to talk about the books that have changed our lives, or made us think, or just provided us with a great deal of pleasure and entertainment, and we love to explore the myriad ideas and opportunities afforded us through the medium of the written word (or illustrated page). We’re just getting started here, so watch closely over the coming days and weeks, as the magic gets underway…

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